A Bergsonian Perspective on Causality and Evolution

In Giuseppe Bianco, Charles T. Wolfe & Gertrudis Van de Vijver (eds.), Canguilhem and Continental Philosophy of Biology. Springer. pp. 251–267 (2023)
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Abstract

Bergsonian philosophy is not generally regarded as a true philosophy of biology. Bergson’s rejection of Darwinism, his silence on incipient genetics, and his unfortunate comparison of the movement of the élan vital with the duration of consciousness led Bergson to be considered at best an outdated philosopher, at worst an enemy of science. However, if there is one thing that Bergson’s Creative Evolution grasped, and offered to biology, it is an understanding of the processual nature of evolution and of its consequences to conceive a causality that considers the efficacy of time in evolution. The aim of this chapter is to reassess Bergson’s philosophy of evolution to demonstrate its relevance for contemporary biology. First, I will study the relevance of Bergson’s epistemological critique of the theories of evolution under debate in his time. Then, I will provide an analysis of the concept of élan vital that will show its topicality to address some of the problems of contemporary biology. Finally, I will indicate the lessons that can be drawn from the élan vital for thinking of the causality at work in evolution. My purpose in this chapter is not only to show that the Bergsonian philosophy of life is not completely outdated, but it is to revaluate its importance in the history of biology and the philosophy of biology, while exploring the contemporary extensions of Bergsonian insights.

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